How do we address student mental health in the age of COVID-19? As young people return to class this fall, mindfulness skills could be the key to combating student anxiety and addressing other student mental health issues.
Back To school can be exciting and anxiety provoking at the best of times. This year will be completely different, as the pandemic has resulted in so many unknowns. More than ever, we need to be proactive in how we manage student anxiety and stress. The beginning of the school year is an ideal time to establish new habits and explore how we can take care of our mental health throughout the school year.
By now, most students know if they will be attending school online or in person this fall. For many families with school age children, this is a tough decision with no precedents to guide us. Parents may ask, Will our kids be safe if they go to school? Will they miss out on social-emotional learning if they do not? What happens if we make the wrong choice for us? What happens if there is a second wave?
College and university aged students will have to adapt to online learning and forgo the usual experience of campus life.Typical outlets for stress relief like sports and social life on campus will not be available.
As mental health therapists, we know that people tend to seek out therapy when times are tough and they need support and tools to help them through tough times. This can be particularly challenging for students who may be seeking out counselling support when the demands of school become a burden.
However, students may not be aware that the best time to take care of your mental health is before you need it. Establish a routine for mental health care just as you would for physical exercise and make it part of your schedule.
Here are some tips to get started. To begin making your own self care a priority:
1. Start a daily mindfulness practice
Make time every day to do a meditation practice.Short, guided meditations with apps like Insight Timer, Calm or Headspace are a great starting point. Make a commitment to yourself to spend a few minutes a day in meditation for your mental health.
2. Make time for physical exercise
One of the most effective things you can do for your mental health is to stay physically healthy. It helps with energy, releases endorphins, and makes us feel strong and resilient. At a minimum, go for a walk at least once a day but also make time for cardio and strengthening exercise.
3. Make sure you eat well and regularly
Diet is also essential in maintaining our mental health and well being. Pay attention to what your body needs, including fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lots of water, and minimum processed foods in your meals each day. Since time and money are limited for students, this step can be difficult, but with some creativity, it is possible.
4. Limit screen time
These days it is tough to limit how many hours we spend on our devices. We can expect to spend hours online for classes, homework, and even socializing, but research shows that our brains are negatively affected by too much screen time and the effects of Zoom fatigue are real. Set a timer to ensure you take a break from your devices at least every 90 minutes.You can use this time to let your eyes close or walk around and take in the space around you.
5. Establish a social routine
We need social connections to feel mentally balanced—and this is more critical during student years. \Students may not enjoy the freedom and spontaneity of campus life like they did before the pandemic, but there are safe ways that students can still feel socially connected.There are many creative ways that people are stepping up to address the social needs of students so they can feel they are still engaged in campus life, so keep an eye out for opportunities to join social causes or meet for outdoor events.
6. Join a mindfulness group
There are many options to join online mindfulness groups that can help students feel socially connected but also keep you on track with a regular mindfulness practice.These are often run by students, for students, but they can also be managed by therapists who can teach psychoeducation about emotion regulation.
7. Make an appointment with a counsellor before you are in crisis
It is never too early to reach out for professional support. If you are feeling overwhelmed right now, it can help to have other people in your corner. A therapist can coach you toa good routine for your mental health, and they can also help you with tools and skills to manage anxiety. CBT and mindfulness skills are useful tools to manage anxiety and student stress.
Students and parents may not be aware of how to access mental health services for students. Many students have extended health benefits through school or employment benefits which will cover the cost of counselling by licensed therapists. Some students may even be eligible for bursaries to cover mental health needs. See our webpage for more info.
Feel free to reach out for a free 15 minute consultation regarding professional support for student mental health. We are here to help you navigate these challenging times.
New Pathways will be offering a 4 week mindfulness group for emotion regulation this fall. For more information click here.